A protection racket victim is taking the head of a gang of mobsters to court to demand he pays her back the cash she handed to his underlings.
The unnamed restaurant owner claims she paid notorious Japanese gangster Kenichi Shinoda’s henchmen £115,000 over 12 years.
In return, she and her staff were not harmed and threats to burn down her business in the city of Nagoya were not carried out.
The claim – believed to be the first under an obscure Japanese law – exploits a rule that makes the leaders of Japanese Yakuza gangs responsible for the actions of their underlings.
Shinoda’s gang, called Yamaguchi-gumi, is a shadowy organisation blamed for dealing in drugs, prostitution and financial crime. Around 40% of all Japan’s Yakuza allegedly belong to Yamaguchi-gumi.
Samurai sword murder
The gangs are not illegal in Japan, and Yamaguchi-gumi is the largest of the three main rivals.
The others are Suminoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai.
The gangs are international, with outposts in the US, Korea and China.
Rare images of Shinoda, now 71, depict him as a slender, dapper man in a trilby-like hat on his release from prison after serving six years on firearms charges.
He has also spent time in jail for killing another gangster with a Samurai sword.
His disarming personality hides a vicious and ruthless streak that has allowed him to climb to the pinnacle of the crime syndicate.
The gang was formed a century ago and goes about business openly in Japan. Suited like office workers, the gangsters even carry Yamaguchi business cards carrying their names and contact details.
Shinoda has recently published an in-house magazine for his gangster cronies and their associates, explaining that times are hard and that they must work harder to make more money for the syndicate.
The benign magazine does not reveal any hint of the darker side of the organisation; instead the editor extols the virtues of fishing and gives tips on how to win at the ancient game Go!
However, the government and police have had enough of the Yakuza – a name synonymous with the US Mafia and Chinese Triads.
New laws are tightening the official grip slowly around the pervasive gangs, culminating in the brave attempt of the restaurant owner to take Shinoda to task once again in the courts.
If she wins, the case could open the way for a flood of similar legal challenges that could see the once-feared Yakuza financially broken.